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The gift of smiles
FOP throws Christmas party for Abba House
Santa hug GOOD
Rhyan Goergen gets a hug from Santa Claus on Friday during a Christmas party the local chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police threw for Abba House families. - photo by Jennifer Sami

It had the feel of any other Christmas morning. A group of children jumping up and down in excitement to open presents.

Only instead of Webkins and Wiis, the children opened boxes filled with socks, shoes and small games and toys. And they couldn't have been happier.

The local Fraternal Order of Police lodge was filled Friday night with mothers and children from Abba House, a 12-month ministry for women fighting addiction or abuse.

"We are probably responsible for them being in the Abba House in some way or fashion," said Forsyth County Sheriff's Investigator Charles Nicholls, lodge secretary. "We want to help them in any way we can to become functioning members of society."

The fraternal order, a group of current and retired members of law enforcement, collected money through a bucket drive to buy the gifts for the Abba House children.

Before the evening began, retired Nassau County, N.Y., homicide investigator Walter Swenson said he was "hoping to put some smiles on the faces of some ... kids here tonight, and give them some things that will certainly make their holiday a little bit brighter."

Shouts of, "Ooh look, I got a pair of shoes, look mom" and "Mom, oh cool, I got a football" and "They just keep coming on and on" filled the air.

It was those reactions, said Forsyth County Sheriff's Deputy Don Carr, that made the evening.

"Most of the kids here are having a hard time dealing with stuff," said Carr, who also surprised children by dressing as Santa Claus. "If you can bring a little bit of happiness for them for a day, that's what counts."

Nicholls said the officers handle the bucket collections, but it's their wives who do shopping for the children.

Abba House resident and mother of two Michelle Tisdale was grateful for the surprise.

"I think it's just a display of generosity and kindness and I think it's a beautiful thing," she said. "We are very blessed.

"It was more than what we expected."